A Colorful Moon: Mineral Resources on Our Nearest Neighbor
By Dr. Ed Albin
Program Director, Space Studies, American Military University
This week’s image was taken on the evening of September 28 and features a false-color view of the Moon. It is possible to tease-out mineralogical data about our nearest neighbor in space by using special software processing techniques.
Captured in a brief moment as clouds were rolling in above my observatory in east-central Georgia, I acquired the image with an eight-inch telescope. This telescope is what astronomers call an astrograph, an instrument designed for wide-field astrophotography and perfect for capturing the entire face of the Moon. Taken just a few days prior to the Hunter’s Full Moon, its phase is not quite full yet and is classified as waxing gibbous. By tradition, the Hunter’s Moon is the name given to the first full moon after the autumnal equinox.
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Our Moon is about one-quarter the size of the Earth and on average a quarter-million miles away. It has the distinction of being the only other place in the cosmos where humans have placed their bootprints. Between 1969 and 1972 astronauts walked on the Moon, launched on their way by NASA’s mighty Saturn V rocket.
Although it has been almost 50 years since a man last set foot on the dusty lunar plains, we are poised to return – bound to ride on modern-day rockets that rival those used in the Apollo era. Called Artemis (twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology), these new missions are set to use a massive rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) built by NASA.
On our image of the Moon, it is easy to see the so-called face of the “Man in the Moon,” which is created by light and dark patches on its surface. To be more precise, we know these patches are composed of dark volcanic plains and light areas pulverized by craters. Planetary scientists call the dark areas Maria and the light areas Terra, somewhat of a misnomer from the early telescope days when astronomers thought the dark areas were seas and the light areas were continents.
Processed to reveal the mineral composition of the lunar surface, this false-color image is a montage of beautiful subtle colors. Note the dark-bluish patch just to the right of center, an area called Mare Tranquillitatis, where Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the Moon. The bluish tone is due to the presence of titanium-rich mineral ore.
Humankind is going back to the Moon soon to stay. Its rich mineral resources will allow us to live off the land, just as our ancestors did when they explored new frontiers on our own planet. Mined to build habitats and lunar cities, these minerals will be separated into oxygen, metals, rare-earth elements, and other valuable resources. Such materials make our Moon a future shining spaceport or harbor for excursions elsewhere in the Solar System.
About the Author
Dr. Ed Albin is an Associate Professor and Program Director of Space Studies in the School of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at American Military University. His academic credentials include a Ph.D. in Planetary Geology from the University of Georgia, an M.S. in Geology from Arizona State University and a B.S. in Earth Science from Columbus State University. Ed has also held positions as an assistant professor, a planetarium lecturer, a commercial helicopter pilot and a planetary geologist.